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What's the best recording of Beethoven's incredible Symphony No. 9? Listen to our playlist, read our recommendations, and click on the links to download your favourite versions from our chosen selection.
Beethoven’s life-affirming Ninth Symphony charted new territory with its perfect structure and use of solo and choral voices. It’s a work deeply cherished by music lovers and an essential part of every CD collection. But which version should you buy?
If you're looking for a recording which offers a slice of history, look no further than this. On July 29, 1951 Wagner’s Festival Theatre in Bayreuth was reopened following the Second World War, and Beethoven's ‘Choral’ Symphony was chosen to be performed. This now legendary mono recording, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, tugs at the heartstrings. However, despite its obvious greatness, a certain amount of orchestral detail is lost.
Moving on, the London Classical Players directed by Roger Norrington deliver a lively, if lightweight, performance. The timpani is overly prominent and the soloists a touch restrained.
Another recording on period instruments, by John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique, is more purposeful – the first movement is particularly energetic with plenty of drive. Gardiner’s shaping is a delight and this well-balanced recording is a very strong contender indeed.
Simon Rattle’s 2002 live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic is very transparent; it has terrific precision and is beautifully played but perhaps is too analytical and, at times, disjointed.
No such criticisms for Herbert von Karajan’s 1976 account with the Berlin Philharmonic which has great depth, power and sensitivity. From the exhilarating first movement to the exuberant fourth movement finale sung by four especially well-blended soloists (Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Agnes Baltsa, Peter Schreier and José van Dam), this is a recording of great stature and is definitely the version to have.